Along with a lot of other people, I have developed a case of buyer’s remorse when it comes to the proposed high-speed rail system. I voted for it thinking only about the convenience of getting to Southern California three hours sooner than I do now riding Amtrak or driving.
Like all wishful thinking, reality soon takes over and the original excitement is lost. There are several realities that created my buyer’s remorse.
First, there is the acquisition of rights-of-way that is consuming vast quantities of time and money, to say nothing about the land that is being taken out of use and off the tax rolls. Being paid fair market value for land lost to high-speed rail is little consolation to those who have to give up the land. The cost of right-of-way per mile will pale when the actual cost of building the system begins.
Second, the system’s full build-out is years away and many people, including myself, won’t be able to use the system during their lifetime.
Third, the benefits of high-speed rail will be enjoyed by comparatively few Californians. Tickets will be pricey and the saved hours of travel time won’t be offset by the few extra hours spent in non-high-speed rail travel. This, coupled with the fact high-speed rail will never be able to pay for itself from ticket sales, makes it an economic disaster.
So, what do we do? For starters, let’s pass an initiative eliminating the original high-speed rail initiative, including its governance and funding source. Such money as is needed to pay off existing financial obligations would remain in place.
The next thing would be to pass a new initiative directed at aiding transportation in California. The dollar amount would be roughly the same as high-speed rail but the money would be better spent servicing the direct travel needs in California.
Funding would be spent to widen or improve all major highways in California such as Interstate 5, Interstate 80, etc., to three lanes in each direction. Most of the rights-of-way are already in place and the overall environmental impact would be minimal compared with that of high-speed rail. Widening highways is already underway, so a more efficient highway system is already close to a reality.
Double-tracking all railroads would be a big part of any future improvements to California’s transportation infrastructure. It would allow trains to travel faster without having to wait to pass one another. Such a system is already in place in the Los Angeles-San Diego rail corridor and most of the rights-of-way, like those for highways, are already in existence.
Lastly would be the dedicated freeway for trucks and heavy commercial traffic. Getting trucks off our freeway system would increase the travel efficiency of trucks and cars.
All of this would allow more benefits for more people at about the same price as the final cost for high-speed rail. There are some things to be said for high-speed rail, but not much.
Bultena is a Merced resident and community columnist for The Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star; email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.